This letter appears in our mid-year 2018 newsletter, marking the end of our fifth fiscal year.
Ronald Reagan had a plaque on his desk that read “There is no limit to what a man can accomplish if he does not care who gets the credit.” Over the past decade I have spent navigating the world of Christian scholarship, I have returned over and over to meditate on this arresting maxim. We live in a world obsessed with credit. Unlike centuries past, ours is a world of intellectual property, a world fixated with the curious notion that you can patent an idea, claiming exclusive credit for it and controlling where it goes, who gets to use it, and how much they have to pay. In academia, this fixation means an obsession with the new—after all, you can’t very well claim credit for an old idea, much less publish it.
For Christian scholarship, few notions are so crippling as this pursuit of originality. To be sure, it is a stimulus for fruitful research, which can challenge “received wisdom” that turns out not to be so wise after all—but at great cost. First, it leads us away from what G.K. Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead” and leaves us with the “small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” Retrieving the wisdom of the church’s past is a thankless task in an age obsessed with originality. Perhaps worse, though, the pursuit of credit stifles the vocation of scholarship as service. If the truth I have discovered is my idea, for which I must be sure to claim credit, I can’t help but hesitate to entrust it to others, who might use it to pad their own reputations. But knowledge is meant to be shared, especially within the community of the Church.
That is why Davenant was conceived first and foremost five years ago as an army of friends, dedicated to renewing contemporary Protestantism through a reckless disregard of “who gets the credit.” The friend, as Aristotle famously said, “is a second self,” an extension of myself, so that the friend’s growth is my growth, the friend’s success my success, rather than a threat to me. Accordingly, at our signature event each year, a three-day retreat in which pastors, scholars, and laymen passionate about the faith share their ideas and experiences, their hopes and fears for the church, we seek to build an ever-widening network of friendships. To date nearly ninety men and women have attended these events, and nearly all have remained in touch and reconnected with one another whenever possible, pooling their resources and insights to build up the church together by recovering the riches of the past and rethinking them in response to the challenges of the present.
From these pooled resources Davenant has been able to put out an ever-growing stream of publications and lectures, aimed at all different levels of readers and listeners. This past year alone, no less than thirty-six individuals have authored articles, pamphlets, or books for us—and that is just the names that appear on the title pages; the uncredited contributions of dozens more lie behind these writings. From all corners of the country, Christians passionate for the renewal of the Church—pastors, scholars, students, junior high teachers, businessmen, realtors, policemen—have contacted me and asked how they can help carry our project forward, by organizing local events and lectures, sharing our books with their congregations, or volunteering to do editorial grunt work.
Davenant has always grown and advanced only to the extent that it was an army of friends, but this has not always been obvious given my own central role at the helm. In the coming year, as I step into a full-time teaching position at Patrick Henry College and streamline my active role at Davenant, I am excited to see others stepping forward into the spotlight. This past month we welcomed Joseph Minich on board as Editor-in-Chief of the Davenant Press, responsible for our rapidly-growing publishing operations. We have just launched the Davenant Speakers Bureau, comprising a group of highly-qualified speakers and teachers who can lecture on behalf of the organization all across North America. Our Vice-President Jake Meador has also taken on increased responsibilities even as he builds his own organization, Mere Orthodoxy, into a premier evangelical web journal.
One of the nice things about an army of friends is that you can get a very long way on very thin physical resources. But Napoleon was fond of saying, “An army can’t move except on its stomach”—which, if I may take the liberty of extending the metaphor, is a reminder that no organization or cause can do without physical and financial resources. As Davenant matures into a multi-personnel ministry in the coming academic year, we are in more need than ever of your prayers and your gifts. Our fiscal year ends June 30th, and we would love to be able to close out the year with a surplus to carry us confidently forward into the tasks ahead. We would also like to continue to build our base of regular monthly donors, supporting us a little bit at a time through thick and thin. If you would like to see our work of Protestant intellectual renewal continue to flourish and impact our churches, please consider giving now.
Blessings in Christ,
President, The Davenant Institute